Interview with Rowena House
Tell us a bit about what inspired The Goose Road?
There is one First World War photograph I often talk about when asked that question, but in a way it’s a lazy answer. Yes, the picture of farmyard geese in a railway marshalling yard inspired part of the plot, but a story is so much more than its plot.
Angelique’s character evolved slowly, out of all sorts of elements which needed to be carefully woven together, but for her journey across France I was a proper magpie, gathering ideas from anywhere and everywhere: my grandfather’s WW1 diary, a French goose farm where I’d spent a holiday in my teens, travel on steam trains in India when I was a student, photos my husband had taken of Paris from the water when he’d been delivering a boat up the River Seine. Whatever I needed, I ferreted out the details from wherever I could.
Then, of course, there were lots of war records, which are incredibly powerful and moving: photographs of mutilated soldiers, collections of letters home, film and sound archives, and one field artillery journal in particular which I found on the French Ministry of Defence’s website. When you start researching what these men went through, and visit the battlefields where they fought and died, it’s terribly, terribly sad.
I also poured many things into the story that I love, things that make me happy, like the countryside and farm animals, wildlife and the changing season. So I suppose what inspired The Goose Road really is a kind of kaleidoscope of life.
Who would be best suited to play Angelique if it was to be made into a film adaption?
I’d love to think they’d cast an unknown French teenage actress as Angelique, and that the film would help launch her international career. We’re such close neighbours – Britain and France – but so much of our culture gravitates towards the USA. That’s a great country, too, but European culture is richer, deeper and older, and could be a much bigger part of our heritage.
Favourite quote from the book?
Gosh, that’s a tough one, but I’ll say this piece because, like Angelique, I love the countryside:
“The warm October sun draws a sweet dampness from the earth and the yellow leaves on the trees blaze. Strolling home in the burnished glow of the sunset, rose hips and red haws shine like jewels.
I put King George to bed, then, in the gathering dusk, stop by the woodpile to chop logs for the fire. But the gosling gets under my feet, tugging at the hem of my skirt with her beak, then squeaking to be picked up.
I’m scared I’ll hurt her if Father’s heavy axe slips from my hands, so I give up on the idea of chopping wood and sit on the block instead, and let her scramble onto my lap.
There are scuttling sounds in the woodpile, soft scratchings, snuffling in the dark. The moon rises clear of the house, outlining roofs, walls, fence posts like a charcoal sketch.
Beyond lie silver fields and fox-haunted hedgerows: our home, our land – Pascal’s and mine – the place where we belong.”
Are you working on anything that you can share with us? (Sneaky peek) 😉
At the moment I’m researching a WW2 romance between a lonely French girl and a conflicted teenage German soldier, set in the vengeance-fuelled final days of the Nazi occupation of Paris.
I used to live in the medieval Marais district of Paris when I was a Reuter’s foreign correspondent. It was beautiful and strange back then, especially on misty autumn mornings, or walking home along the cobbled streets late at night. It must have been extraordinarily spooky in the war-time black out, with the Allied bombings, and hardly any cars on the roads because there was no fuel, with food running short and rumours the city would be levelled by the retreating Germans, and French resistants plotting their revenge on collaborators. So that’s where I’m setting this new story: in and around the Place des Vosges, and the ancient Jewish quarter along the rue de Rosiers.
There’s a dog in it, too. Not my darling dog – I couldn’t bear to imagine anything horrible happening to him – but a dog I once knew, whose life seemed to be sad. I won’t say anything more about him because that would spoil the plot, but I really hope I find the time to write this story. I’m very excited about it.
What are you currently reading?
Lots of non-fiction books about the last days of the Nazi occupation of Paris!
I love research, and delving into cobwebby corners of history where all the stuff people would rather forget is stored. That’s really the point of writing historical fiction for me – and for a lot of other historical novelists as well. We like to look deeper into people’s lives than historians are allowed to, because they’re constrained by the need to prove what they’re writing is accurate; they need direct evidence to establish ‘facts’. The storyteller is free to wonder about the most private, personal motivations of people in the past, their psychology and emotions, those underlying human qualities that aren’t in the written record. Fiction writers also have a wider cast of characters to play with, especially ordinary working people, who were typically too poor or too busy putting food on the table to record their thoughts and experiences, or lacked the culture or education to dream of doing so.
At the moment I’m finishing Paris, After the Liberation by Antony Beevor and Artemis Cooper. Next I want to track down the wartime journal of a particular teenage Parisian girl I’ve read about, who seems to have been very sharp-eyed and funny.